Look around any major city and you will see a startling technology trend. Pokemon Go. People crowd into downtown areas, public parks, and historical landmarks in groups consisting of children, teenagers, and adults of all ages. Each of them staring intently at their mobile phones, while chatting with the people around them, often total strangers. All of them are playing Pokemon Go.

If you’re that one person who hasn’t caught the news lately and is unfamiliar with Pokemon Go, it’s a game, designed for Android and IOS devices, that uses GPS location-based augmented reality (AR) to allow players to hunt, capture, train, and battle various Pokemon characters. It’s also an excellent example of the type of persuasive instructional strategies we design with at Remote-Learner.

The Design Goals of Pokemon Go

Niantic had three goals when they started designing the gameplay of Pokemon Go. They wanted people to explore, exercise, and socialize. They designed all the mechanics of the game to persuade their players to do those three things with the primary objective being to “Catch ‘em All”.

Goal #1 Explore

To catch Pokemon, you have to hunt them down which requires you to leave your house (and your couch) and explore areas around you. The game is designed so that different types of Pokemon spawn (show up) near where you would logically expect to find them. For example, water creatures can be found near lakes, streams, and oceans. You can also train (evolve) your characters into higher level characters by finding multiples of the same character, so you are encouraged to keep hunting and exploring to get stronger characters.

Players who have lived in the same city their entire lives are discovering new parks, new restaurants, and new neighborhoods that they likely didn’t even know existed until they started exploring and hunting for Pokemon. What a great example of using conditioning and monitoring strategies to motivate and build learning into the fun of the experience.

Goal #2 Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

It’s not enough to just go outside. Niantic wanted to persuade their players to exercise, so they added a reward for walking. You can get Eggs, either by leveling up or at Pokestops. Eggs will only hatch once you walk the required distance, which can be 2km, 5km, or 10km. The longer distance you have to walk to hatch the egg, the higher chance you have to get a rare Pokemon.  To prevent cheating, Niantic even added a speed check on the game. If you are moving too fast, they assume you are driving or riding in a car and will not count it toward your walking distance.

A player who previously may not have embraced exercising somehow find that they have hatched multiple 10km eggs by walking through neighborhoods, grocery stores, and the many many parks and landmarks they have now discovered. All without even realizing that’s what they’re doing.

The added value of this approach is the game reports to you just how far you have traveled in the form of what eggs you have hatched. By capturing data about player behavior in all aspects of gameplay, the game can report information back about changes in behavior to the player. This action is critical when we think about our learners, how do we capture data about their behavior and ultimately report back to them on achievements toward desired behavior change.

Goal #3 Socialize

Pokemon Go addresses socialization in multiple ways, and some of them are rather unexpected. The game includes Pokestops, which are places to get supplies, and are usually located at historic landmarks, cultural attractions, parks, churches, and government buildings. It’s not unusual to find large groups hanging around Pokestops for extended periods of time, chatting about which characters they’ve caught or seen. Businesses with Pokestops have begun to taken advantage of this by making sure that Lures stay on any Pokestops nearby as a way to attract customers.

The value of social learning strategies is well known. What is different about the approach with Pokemon Go is that the game does not “force” socialization as an activity, rather it is a desired side effect of the popularity of the game. Lesson being, creating a space for behavior to occur can sometimes be all it takes to persuade learners to adopt the desired behavior.

Can you imagine defining the goals around new employee onboarding and using GPS to encourage employees to learn their way around a company? Or to find key employees they should engage with as a part of their training?

How does this apply to eLearning?

Game based strategies and gamification are well-discussed techniques in eLearning circles, but there are lessons to be learned from looking deeper at the challenges Niantic had with past attempts to add these goals to their standard gameplay. Pokemon Go was not the first attempt to add socialization in a game. They only succeeded when they started with their goals first and designed the strategies in the game in a way that encouraged how they wanted their players to behave.

Even without incorporating the added GPS and AR elements of Pokemon Go, the mindset of implementing persuasive instructional strategies can be used to encourage particular behavior in your learners. Start with the way you want your learners to behave and create your activities in ways that promote or “persuade” that behavior.

There is an important lesson here for instructional designers and LMS site administrators. So often the focus is only the “what” we want learners to learn, but if we take a step back and look at the full experience and how we want learners to behave within a site, we just might see that learning increases because we have designed a place for it to occur.  To this extent Pokemon Go is a real world example of Persuasive Instructional Design in action.

Dr. Page Chen is the Chief Innovation Officer at Remote-Learner and serves on several Advisory Boards for technology startup companies in the edtech industry. With degrees in Adult Education and Instructional Design for Online Learning she has designed “out of the box” solutions for all ages and a wide variety of industries for over 20 years. For the last decade, she has focused on open source solutions with a key interest on how integrating techniques used in other fields that incorporate interactive technologies could be utilized in eLearning platforms in a way that has a positive impact on learner mastery. Working together with the design and development teams at Remote-Learner, Dr. Chen incorporates her research on proven behavioral design and persuasive technology techniques to support the ongoing design and development of products and instructional strategies.

Kristin Isler is our Design Team Lead at Remote-Learner and a Pokemon Go fanatic. When not serving as our Pokemon Go expert, she is designing an excellent learning experience for our clients using Persuasive ID Strategies. Since joining the Remote-Learner team, she has been focused on corporate training solutions but still serves as our in-house expert on accessibility and copyright.